About this Itinerary
Long before the Masters Golf Tournament put Augusta on the map, the city was an important southern industrial center due to its canal. The Augusta Canal began operating in 1847 and is one of the oldest canals in the U.S. that remains in use for its original purpose of providing power, transportation, and municipal water. It was one of the only successful canals in the south leading to Augusta becoming one of the region’s few manufacturing hubs. By the time of the Civil War, the city’s factories were integral to the war effort by supplying various materials to the Confederate army. After the war, Augusta continued to see a proliferation of mills and factories build up along the canal leading to great prosperity for the city.
As factories began to close in the mid-20th century the canal fell into disrepair and a movement was made to destroy it to build a highway. Fortunately, it was saved from this fate and in 1996 the canal was designated a National Heritage Area. In addition to biking, today visitors can also explore the canal by boat, kayak or canoe; visit the interpretative center that delves in to the history of the area; and hike numerous trails.
The 7.5 mile long Augusta Canal Trail (ACT) may not be the longest bike trail you’ve ever ridden, but there is enough history, culture, and outdoor activities along its banks to make for a full day of exploration. The trail follows the canal towpath that was originally used by draft animals to pull cargo boats upstream to the locks. Sections of the path are paved, but most of it is a mix of compacted dirt, gravel, and pebbles. All along the route you will find incredible views and lots of opportunities to get off your bike to explore. Cyclists should approach the ride with patience and expect considerable traffic as this is a very popular trail with locals and visitors alike. Don’t let this dissuade you however, as biking along the Augusta Canal is an experience not to be missed.
Our base for this itinerary is the historic Partridge Inn. Located in the hilltop Summerville district, the property was built in 1836 as a private residence. Over time the house was expanded and converted to an inn, and during Augusta’s heyday as a winter resort destination, it earned the title of‘The Grand Hotel of the Classic South.’The property features a quarter mile of verandahs and balconies and world-class dining. Expect fully modern amenities with historical and utterly Southern ambiance.
From the hotel, the trailhead where we begin our itinerary is about two miles away. Note that bike rentals in Augusta are hard to come by. At the northern end of the trail in Savannah Rapids Park, The Bike Peddler offers rentals trailside, but has limited operating hours. Rentals are available Thursday through Sunday during the warmermonths and weekends in the winter. The shop is closed during inclement weather. Call ahead to ensure availability and opening hours. You can find the shop in the lower level of the Mill House at the southern end of the park. If you need to rent a bicycle, head to Savannah Rapids Park and follow the proposed itinerary in reverse.
After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, fill up your water bottles and head out for a full day of exploration. The route to the trailhead can be biked, but it is along a road that can be quite busy, so proceed with caution if you opt to do this. To bike, head east on Walton Way. After almost two miles, turn left on 13th Street and look for the trailhead on your left (there is a slight grade along this route and you should be prepared for some uphill riding on your return). Alternatively, free parking is available here near the Walton Rehabilitation Outpatient Clinic (where you can access the trailhead). This is the Old Turning Basin trailhead and is at the end of the canal’s first level. Follow the signs for the entrance and bike north.
Shortly after setting out, you will come upon Enterprise Mill. A historical textile mill dating from 1878, this building now houses The Augusta Canal Discovery Center. Before riding further, stop in to view the exhibits and orientation film, which includes information about how the canal was built, how it works, industry that sprang up along its banks (and the harsh working conditions workers endured), and information about the Petersburg boats that plied the waters. Wandering through the center will give you a much greater understanding of what you will see along the canal and help immerse you in its rich history, as well as helping you gain an appreciation for the enormous efforts that went in to rehabilitating the area after years of decline. The entire area you will bike through was in a state of complete neglect after mills began shutting down, yet today the Augusta Heritage Trail and surroundings have become the focal point and crown jewel of the city.
Before you leave the Discovery Center, pick up a copy of the detailed map of the Heritage Area. The map includes the bike route, numerous walking paths, a separate mountain bike trail, and notes a number of historical landmarks along the way. Head north on the trail and at the intersection with Broad Street follow signs to continue on a slight on-road section before returning to the trail past Chafee Park. You will notice King Mill across the canal. This historical mill was completed in 1882 and was operational until 2001. The Augusta Canal Authority then purchased the property to ensure its preservation.
Once you are back on the trail you will notice across the river another of the canal’s iconic mills. This is Sibley Mill. Completed in 1882, it was once the site of the Confederate Powder Works, and was in operation as a textile mill until 2006. The exterior of this mill is noteworthy as it is considerably more ornate than a typical mill and is considered to be neo-gothic in style. At the center of each wing is a cast iron coat of arms of the Sibley Family, the facade has a crenellated roof, and iron finials adorn the front towers. It is unclear why so much attention to detail was paid to the exterior of this mill. The building currently stands empty although there is an active movement to redevelop the site. One remaining featuring of the Powder Works, the chimney, is open to visitors. As you pass by, stop in for a quick look around.
The trail continues along on a strip of land that lies between the canal and the Savannah River. This section is quite lovely and lined with thick forest, providing shade on those hot, humid Georgia summer days. This undeveloped land has formed a wetland and is home to a number of animals including deer, fox, beavers, raccoons, alligators, turtles, ducks, muskrats, and frogs.
At the Lake Olmsted trailhead, stop and take a half mile walk along the paved trail that follows the shore of Lake Olmsted, a recreational lake that was formed by the canal’s enlargement in the 1870s. The trail can be reached on the east side of the lake from Bulkhead Bridge.
The trail ends in Savannah Rapids Park at the headgates. Here you will see a v-shaped diversion dam that directs water from the Savannah River into the headgates where it then flows 13 miles through Augusta. Along the way the waters power several hydroelectric plants, as well as a water-pumping station that was constructed in the 1890s mid-canal to provide water for the city, and still operates for that purpose today. This is also where you can find rentals at The Bike Peddler, if you are starting your ride at this end of the trail.
Stop by the visitor’s center, located inside the former canal lock keeper’s cottage, to see a pictorial history of the county and the canal, as well as a re-creation of how part of the cottage would have looked when the lock keeper lived here. For those interested in kayaking, Savannah Rapids Kayak Rentals is located here as well. The headgates are the ideal place to begin a kayak trip along the canal since you can paddle with the current instead of against (which is about 6 knots). There are various points that you can pull out, but for bikers an ideal trip is paddling to Lake Olmstead where the rental company will meet you and provide shuttle service back to Savannah Rapids Park. For those interested in an escorted tour, Cole Watkins Tours offers trips to two destinations along the canal, as well as other scenic locations in the Augusta area.
After exploring this end of the trail, retrace your path and head south.
This evening, enjoy dinner at Frog Hollow Tavern. The menu features Southern cuisine made with local and regionally grown ingredients, and an extensive wine list. The food is fine dining but the atmosphere is casual. Try the free-range roasted chicken, shrimp and grits, or house-smoked andouille sausage. Also by the same owners, try Craft & Vine, for slightly lighter fare. This cocktail bar and eatery features an impressive cocktail menu in addition to an extensive wine and beer selection, and offers foods such as charcuterie and cheeses, small plates, and wood fired pizzas. This is the perfect place to go if you don't want a full multi-course meal but want to sample good local foods.
There are many cultural and recreational attractions in the area to explore. Consider visiting Enterprise Mill to take a scenic Petersburg canal boat tour. The open-air vessels are replicas of the Petersburg cargo boats that once hauled goods on the canal. Cruise options include a heritage tour that focuses on landmarks such as 19th-century textile mills and two of the state’s only remaining 18th-century houses; a Civil War tour that tells the story of Augusta’s role in the war; a live music tour; and a sunset cruise. Tours and sailing vary depending on the season. For lunch or dinner, stop by Fat Man’s Mill Cafe, located adjacent to the Mill, for a quick burger, barbecue, fried chicken, salad, or wrap.
The Old Turning Basin trailhead is located only a few blocks from the scenic Riverwalk. Situated on the Savannah River between 10th and 6th Streets, this brick-lined pedestrian area features stunning views of the river and beautifully landscaped grounds with two large water features, an outdoor amphitheater, Japanese gardens, and a number of other interesting sites. Close by you will also find a variety of different restaurants. Try The Boll Weevile Cafe and Sweetery, located at 10 Ninth Street. The cafe features a variety of typical Southern dishes such as fried green tomatoes, seafood bisque, and gumbo, as well as a full menu of delectable desserts. This area also has a number of chain hotels, including a Marriott, which with its location close to the trail and riverfront, is another lodging option.
Also on the Riverwalk, find the Morris Museum of Art, whose collection focuses on the art and artists of the South, and includes nearly 5,000 paintings, works on paper, photographs, and sculptures dating from the late-18th century to the present. On nearby Reynolds Street, find The Augusta Museum of History. The museum chronicles the history of the city with exhibits on golf, transportation, and personal artifacts from local legend, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.